China, Japan, South Korea in show of unity

Mari Yamaguchi
Leaders from China, Japan and South Korea have met in Tokyo

China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to cooperate on ending North Korea's nuclear program and promoting free trade, two hot-button issues challenging their region.

The agreements came at the first summit for the Northeast Asian neighbours after a hiatus of more than two years, bringing together Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese premier Li Keqiang and South Korean president Moon Jae-in.

Abe said they discussed how they can get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but he did not provide any details. China and Japan, in particular, have differences over how best to achieve North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met Moon on April 27 and Chinese president Xi Jinping earlier this week, in a surprise visit to the Chinese coastal city of Dalian.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, early on Wednesday to finalise details of a summit planned between President Donald Trump and Kim.

"We must lead the ongoing momentum toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and achieve peace and stability in Northeast Asia," Abe told a joint news conference in Tokyo.

Japanese deputy chief cabinet secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said the three leaders also agreed to work toward two free trade agreements, a free trade pact among themselves and the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Southeast Asian nations.

Trump has threatened all three countries with tariffs in a bid to seek trade concessions from them. His moves have raised fears of a trade war between the US and China.

Li, the number two official in China after Xi, said earlier that free trade was a good way to promote a global economic recovery.

"We are willing to work with Japan and South Korea to jointly maintain regional stability and push forward the development of the three countries," he said before the meeting.

Analysts say Japan is trying to showcase improved ties and cooperation with China and South Korea so its views will be represented in any negotiations with North Korea.

Abe reiterated Japan's position that it would normalise ties with North Korea only if the latter took concrete steps toward abandoning its nuclear and missile programs and resolve the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents.